Maciulis: Nurturing nature remains our big responsibility
By Bob Maciulis For Sun-Times Media June 27, 2014 11:16PM
Most offensive spot on the trip was Bubbly Creek, a 2 mile stub off the main channel that dead ends in the stocky rds at Racine av.
Updated: June 29, 2014 2:12AM
June is Rivers Appreciation Month, and as we near another turn of the calendar page, I sifted back through my Outdoor Notebook for something that summarized how much fisheries on most of the rivers throughout northeastern Illinois had improved.
One entry dealt with the Fox River and in part the west branch of the DuPage, the Des Plaines and everyone’s favorite for many years, the Kankakee.
When I was growing up on Chicago’s South Side, the only one considered clean was the Kankakee.
“Not all dirt is the same,” I wrote. “Nor is all pollution.”
While a rose growing in a wheat field is a weed, a discarded tire in a small rural creek is a spawning area for channel cats. It’s a place for bass to hide from an overhead sun on a blistering July afternoon.
There was a time when tournament fishermen on the upper Fox River would lock down through McHenry’s Stafford Dam during prefishing and spend days searching for places where the shoreline walls had collapsed into the river, where some home-improvement type had dumped a barrow-full of hardening cement onto a marshy shoreline or for such creative fish-magnets as parts of automobiles, washing machine tubs, even shopping carts.
I knew one who ran the Fox Chain after draw-down in the fall, from the northern most clear lakes down to McHenry and Algonquin, with a map and a marker in his lap. Different symbols indicated the different “structure” he pinpointed. He virtually was invincible during the early tournaments the following spring.
Whatever was different from the rest of the bottom content often held what few bass there were back then. There was no check-off for aesthetics on a tournament weigh-in sheet; just a place to enter total poundage.
It was a time when the DNR didn’t like its field biologists getting splashed by the turgid, badly polluted water of the Des Plaines River. Yet, the conservation ethic already had taken root, sprouting from the pages of Rachel Carson, from the remarkable observations of Aldo Leopold and from the television odysseys of Jacques Cousteau.
We collectively realized that things didn’t need to be dirty. Pollution didn’t have to be part of the landscape. Organic pollution, some argue, is not as devastating as is the airborne man-made type, like the mercury toxins that are affecting surface water throughout the upper Midwest now. Unless you ask someone living within the killing radius of a giant hog farm — or if you grew up playing beside Bubbly Creek like I did when Chicago’s Stockyard waste was poured into the dead end channel leading to the Chicago River.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly nature rebounded?
Sir Alistair Cook, the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, once remarked that it was a sad reflection on our arrogance and vanity that we thought that we could destroy civilization. Or, by extension, nature, even the world.
He pointed to the dark ages and to the centuries after Charlemagne until the Renaissance, when civilized man’s future seemed its bleakest, yet good eventually prevailed, and culture, too, along with it goodness and the higher virtues most of us aspire to.
It isn’t difficult to find ways to live in harmony with our environment. It seems that every river has improved since the 1950s when so many of them had been so badly polluted, having been used as running sewers for a century.
Now, fish are spreading evenly throughout our river systems. We flock to these rivers to fish, paddle and to recreate.
That’s our legacy.